Economists Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya had endeared to the educated masses by offering spirited, scholarly defence of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s model of governance last year. Now that they say they are looking for a role in the government of the subject of their treatises, their edifice of credibility collapses. This is truer for “the most famous living economist never to win a Nobel Prize”. And if the BJP or its prime ministerial candidate has had no talk with the duo over the issue, the guru and his protégé would be seen as trying to influence the party with the greatest potential to form the next government to create a room for them by talking to it through the media. Bhagwati and Panagariya are certainly competent for the jobs they covet — on an external council advising the prime minister and as the chief economist to the prime minister — but then, there is no dearth of equally talented personnel in competition. The issue is anyway not merely about the two right-of-centre intellectuals named. The NDA Government did not particularly benefit from the posse of turncoat journalists it had employed in government ranks on assuming office in 1998, looking at the positivity they exuded through the newspaper columns they hogged. Many of them had switched camps opportunistically on witnessing intense competition among peers in the leftist fold. Last year when Modi started rising in public opinion, another group of intellectuals emerged: Some with his biographies, some with his ‘exclusive’ interviews and the rest as his advocates in both mainstream and social media. A few of them managed to get endorsement from Modi’s Twitter handle and Facebook page, and a few managed to make the BJP organise events to launch their books. When or if a Modi Government takes charge at the Centre, we would know how many of these highbrows were not objective in their assessment of the Gujarat model.
That is not to say the Congress does not do the same thing. That our universities and other knowledge centres are in a vice-like grip of intellectuals who are favourably disposed towards left-of-centre parties is an old story. But that is a smarter way of going about it. The BJP makes it barefaced, and yet it cannot rule the roost in the institutions of opinion that are in the state’s ambit when it replaces the Congress. The NCERT books published during the NDA years, for example, were hash jobs for students and teachers; they were also shoddily defended in the media. The saffron party does not know the art of creating Amartya Sens in distant campuses, Khushwant Singhs in the media and Yogendra Yadavs in regulatory bodies governing education. All the three could argue they have never had anything to do with the Establishment, and get away with it!
One may question the utility of knowledge and intellect when they are not placed in positions high enough to influence society at large. But interactions with reputed people with such faculties reveal it was always their dream to “become” something — an ambition Modi has publicly disapproved of. He is also known to hear out proficient but less celebrated experts patiently in closely guarded meetings and implement their plans. It’s time the advisers and the advised both walked the road of nishkama karma (selfless service).